Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Blog Wars

Well, now that a battle has been waged.

The other day a free book arrived from Mind & Media. YIPEE! I decided to delay posting a review until I had more readers. That's finally happened. As a result, I haven't been reading as much or posting regularly. Instead, I've been spending time registering at traffic sites and adding codes to my blog page. There's so much out there in the blog world that it can actually be quite a struggle to build an audience quickly.

Well, now that I've momentarily won a battle for readers, back to my beloved books...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Why Benedict? and I Don't Mean Eggs

After a Theology class I decided to browse blogs, and, while I was browsing, I came across one that discusses the appointment of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope. The Gun-Toting Liberal lists snippets from other blogs concerning the Pope's appointment and accompanying comments of his own. In my class, I had the pleasure of speaking with someone who worked for Pope Benedict XVI during the early '90's, and, during our discussion, we speculated as to why he had taken the name Benedict--as opposed to, say, John Paul III.

But first let me dispel some incredible misinformation about the Pope's personal history and character. I got a lot of my information from Jewish publications. Pope Benedict XVI was the son of an anti-Nazi police officer. He deserted the German military. The Pope's membership in Hitler Youth was compulsory and short-lived. He actively saught not having to be part of the HY and got a dispensation from involvment based on his pursuit of religious studies. He personally attempted to strengthen the bond between Jews and Catholics/christians alongside Pope John Paul II by helping to prepare Memory and Reconcilation, and he has stated that it saddens him when any person uses portions of the Bible to justify anti-semitism.

The current Pope is conservative. That's not suprising seeing as he was Pope John Paul II's closest confidant, or, as Anne of Green Gables would say, they were kindred spirits, and Pope John Paul was conservative. They worked as a team, and therefore shared at least some similar prayers for the church. For instance, they both wanted to heal the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Anyway, back to why he might have taken the name Benedict. Apparently, Pope Benedict XVI is quite the scholar. Until present, Pope Benedict XIV had been acknowledged as the greatest scholar among the popes. Our current Pope is fluent in ten languages and proficient in even more. When asked, years ago, whether he wanted to be Pope, he said no because he didn't want to do administrative work anymore. He craved time to write the "many books" he had in his head. His idea of fun was to gather his current and previous doctoral students, take a trip to a cabin in the mountains, and stay there discussing subject-matter like salvation or grace around food and a fire.

Pope Benedict XIV was conservative when it came to liturgical matters. Given that the emphasis of Pope Benedict XVI's homily at Pope John Paul's funeral Mass was the importance of the Eucharist (or liturgy), he's quite conservative about liturgical matters. Furthermore, Bendict XIV exerted tremendous efforts to strengthen relations with the Eastern Church, and he was succcesful with a number of Eastern Churches. Also, Pope Bendict XV worked to bridge the enormous gap between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Given that the current Pope has spent a lot of time attempting to strengthen/repair the Catholic Church's relationship with Jews and the Eastern Orthodox (especially the Russian Eastern Orthodox Church), that's another common bond the Benedicts appear to share.

As concerns Pope Benedict XV, he was Pope during World War I. He was a consummate diplomate and advocated for peace. He indicated that he was concerned with "the death of Europe" due to, one would assume, it's disrespect for life as evidenced by the War. Now, the parallels between that Pope and the current one could be read in a couple of different ways: first, the Vatican has stated that it doesn't agree with the war in Iraq because it doesn't believe that the criteria for a Just War have been met and second, the Vatican has acknowledged that the spirtual life of the church has been dying in Europe--largely because a pervasive culture of death there. In fact, as far as a I know, the current Pope has already made it his mission to revive the spirtual life of Europeans. Thus, I would say that the second parallel is pretty definite, and the first parallel may or may not be there. Time will tell.

It's unfair to say that he wont have time to do great things, or that he is somehow an interim Pope. Vatican II was convened by Pope John XXII, who was only Pope for 5 years. His legacy speaks for itself. There is no limit to what Pope Benedict XVI may acheive.

Pray for us!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Your Linguistic Profile:

40% General American English

40% Yankee

15% Dixie

5% Upper Midwestern

0% Midwestern

This isn't strictly book-related, but I do find it interesting an somewhat related to writing in general. If an author were writing a piece that included characters who spoke specific regional dialects, including American ones, then it would be important to have a good ear for lingual variations. In films, one can vary a given character's accent, but in order to write the variation, one would have to know vocab differences between regions. I'm guessing I got 5% upper midwestern for having said that Toilet Papering was TP'ing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I'm waiting for the rest of The Inheirtance

I always feel arrogant dissecting a book, but here we go again anyway.

Christopher Paolini's Eragon was pleasant but a little cliched, and, while it is an amazing piece from such a young writer, an underlying immaturity bled through the story. Let me be specific: it was written by a teenager, it seems like it was written by a young (in terms of experience, not age) writer, but it doesn't necessarily seem like it was written by someone as young as Paolini actually was. If you got that, then you can get Kant.

Paolini possesses a wonderful understanding of language, and that enables him to construct full and beautiful descriptions of Eragon's world; however, a fabulous description, poorly timed, loses efficiacy. At times, it was like watching a film where the director went a little nutty with slow-motion movement and made all his action sequences slow-motion scenes.

Secondly, there was one area in which Paolini's understanding of language failed him: the tags for dialogue verged on the ridiculous. He obviously used a thesaurus in order to find a g-zillion variations for the word "said." I know you're not supposed to use the "said" after every character's statement, but that's because it can be distracting. On the other hand, avoiding "said" by using every known variation of the word "said" is distracting too. The dialogue just wasn't rich in the same way that the narrative portions of the book were.

Further, the dialogue was stitled at times because the scenes were too staged and predictable. The plot and charcters were almost too familiar. I'm actually a really big proponent of predictability in stories. Familiarity is comforting, and archetypal characters are easier to understand because we know them so well. For instance, I love Oedipus in Oedipus Rex. He's about as preditable as you can get, but his story is so engaging. Everytime I read it, I read it hoping the ending is going to be different (No. I am not insane), but, of course, the moment you read it's first paragraph you know it wont end well. It starts:

My children, latest-born wards of old Cadmus,
why do you sit before me like this with wreathed branches of suppliants, while
the city reeks with incense, [5] rings with prayers for health and cries of
woe? I thought it unbefitting, my children, to hear these things from the mouths
of others, and have come here myself, I, Oedipus
renowned by all. Tell me, then, venerable old man--since it is proper that you
[10] speak for these--in what mood you sit here, one of fear or of desire?
Be sure that I will gladly give you all my help. I would be hard-hearted indeed
if I did not pity such suppliants as these.

Why, then, did Eragon's predictability bother me? The dramatic irony in Eragon is false. I wont betray any of the stories "secrets". If you start the book, you'll be able to guess them soon enough. (Please forgive me if I'm really off my rocker. I read the book a while ago.) Because of the way that the story is written, the "hero" seems to know what his fate is, and anytime that the author asserts that he doesn't, the assertion seems disingenuous. Whereas in Oedipus, the "hero" genuinely doesn't know his fate, and even though you want him to, even though you feel like he should know, you fully understand and believe that he just doesn't see it (that's an "in joke" for people who know the Oedipus story) . There just doesn't seem to be a real inner turmoil for Eragon. Yes, he's trying to discover his fate, but he seems like he already knows what it is and isn't struggling against it. He's just along for the ride all over the Alagaesia country-side.

Yes, I know that comparing a Greek tragedy to a fantasy novel is like comparing apples and oranges. Oh well.

It was fun and easy to read, and I'm definitely interested in seeing where Paolini is headed. It was a solid start to what may be a great trilogy. Maybe I'm in a bad mood or just didn't read the book with the right frame of mind. I did enjoy the book, I just have an intuition that Paolini is capable of a lot more.